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Friday, September 3, 2010

Cheesy Christian Movies-- A Different Look

Yes, Christian movies have a reputation for being cheesy.  On another blog, we've had an interesting debate that started with the premise that maybe they're cheesy because they lack budget.  (For the definition of "cheesy", read this.)

Let's work from a substitution model.  Take another art form-- canvas oil painting.  Let's say a Christian enjoys the museum and looks at the paintings done by all these incredible artists over the centuries.  They go home and say "Well heck (remember, the Christian doesn't say 'hell'), I can do that!"  And so he grabs a crayon, or some tempura, spreads out the butcher paper, and without as much as watching one instructional YouTube video, he makes his masterpiece.

He gathers his friends from the church group to gaze at this beautiful thing... and like the emperor's clothes, they all nod and pat him on the back and say something religious like "well, God's certainly given you a passion brother!"

Now stop right there, I know what you're going to say next.  "Well Dan, don't you believe in the power of God.  I mean, He put the Master in 'Masterpiece.'  Don't you think He gives gifts to His children?"  Yes I do.  Sometimes He chooses to zap someone.  But more often than not, He's MUCH more concerned about the artist than the art.  He wants to take the artist through a process.  Yet the artist places WAAAAAY too much emphasis on the art.

Have I lost you?  Goes back to us Christian Filmmakers who love to say "My movie is going to reach the lost!  Praise His name!"  My friend, if you think your art is that important, you've lost some grip on reality.  He can make a sunset that can touch man's heart more than your movie.  The movie is nothing more than a tool.  He didn't gives us that Great Commission to "reach the lost."  He gave the Great Commission to "make disciples."  And quite frankly, a movie is a poor substitute for discipling.  I can see Paul now-- "Hey Tim, no need to hang with me-- just watch my movie!"

Or to put it in a better way (my composer friend Ben Reynolds came up with this one)... it's like the three year old baking in his mother's kitchen (you're the three year old in this allegory, God's the mother) on his Easy-Bake Oven.  He makes this attrocious brownie-like substance and when it goes "ding" pulls it out.  Mom tastes it and smiles to the little tike.  "Great job!"  But here, the tike thinks the cake is going to fetch a bazillion dollars at the upcoming church bake sale.

I know several of these Christian Filmmakers.  They have drifted away from Truth-- which means they're operating in some degree of delusion.  And you wonder why their movies are "cheesy?"  It has nothing to do with budget.  Give our artist above oil paints instead of tempura... nice, stretched canvas instead of butcher paper, and I can tell you what the result will be.  Short of Zappage from God.

My filmmaking friends that say they're disciples of Jesus-- please listen.  Storytelling is an ART.  It takes training.  Education.  Apprenticeship.  Skill.  Gifting.  Inspiration.  And of course passion.  You might have one of these.  Or two.  So what are you waiting for?  Go start getting the rest.  Or you'd better fast and pray for some major Zappage.  Otherwise, you're just adding to the plethora of cheese.  (I sooo wanted to use that word today.  Not cheese.  Plethora).

I don't' believe you can do this and embrace the Christian Nazi Film Festival.  (The CNFF).  And if you think I'm making it up-- I'm not.  Of course they don't call themselves this.  I have a filmmaking friend who did a modern prodigal son and showed five or so blurry seconds of a table with beer bottles on it and him sitting behind with some other people.  They wanted him to take it out.  They wanted him to forsake Truth.  Of course, the Pharisees wanted Jesus to forsake Truth.

10 comments:

  1. From my post at FamilyChristianMovies.com I end up screening films for our website. I just have to say, they're rarely as cheesy as I expect. In the last year I've seen the following films that I DIDN'T find cheesy.

    Standing Firm
    Lost Boy
    Wheel of Knowing
    The Impostor
    Letters to God
    To Save A Life
    Homeless for the Holidays
    Miracle of the Widow

    I have hope that the films in this industry are getting better, and I'm glad that we're part of the process of getting rookie films like Miracle of the Widow and Wheel of Knowing distributed so that these film makers might get to the point of making their second film.

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  2. They are getting better... and I believe the pattern will follow Christian Music from 30 years ago. I think production value will climb (just from the sheer number of faith films being made, distribs can become choosier, and the cheesier won't make the light of day). But I wonder then how commercialism will become the driving force and not passion. There are and will continue to be exceptions at every level (30 years ago, Keith Green's music was high quality and still had insane passion, and today much quality, mostly passion squelched by commercialism. But again, there are exceptions. Jeff Deyo. Downhere.

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  3. I have to agree with Jake (and of course with you, Daniel).

    As the composer for 'Standing Firm' and a number of other Christian films that are in the process of being released, I find that the quality has improved significantly to where I can wholeheartedly recommend them not only as a great film to watch, but more importantly using them as a tool in the process of making disciples, as you pointed out.

    I think we are seeing a major shift toward quality Christian films (is there really such a thing, or is it a quality film with Christ-centric values?) and it will be interesting to look back at where we have been.

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  4. Most, not all, Christian films to date are fine for making the church "feel good"... and if that is their goal; well done. I have heard people praise and recommend films I cant sit through, but these same people wont watch a "secular" film.
    If the goal is to make people think or even draw them to the Light; the medium, the art, needs to be at a higher standard. All gifts come for the Lord, what people do with them is theirs to decide, but shouldn't we - who worship the giver of these gifts and have access to that creative spirit directly (we are made in his image after all) - be able to actually set the standards?
    if you want to reach an audience, get them to think about something you are saying, you have to have a film that they will sit through without cringing or poking fun at. (Just read allot of the reviews on some of these films on sites like Netflix or Blockbusters. I don't remember the film, but one guy actually said something to the effect of "if they want to preach at me at least don't make the movie so crappy")

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  5. My experience is that Christian filmmakers tend to focus on technology – getting it to look acceptable from a lighting, camera standpoint. Then it gets accolades as having 'Hollywood production values." Some films mentioned in previous comments fall into this category for me.

    What is neglected, and you rightly point this out, is story and craftsmanship beyond just nicely framed shots and decent lighting and an HD camera.

    Story is still the place where "Christian films" fall short in most instances, for me. We don't trust audiences to think, to put pieces together. We don't trust the Holy Spirit to use anything that seems like ambiguity or nuance or gray areas of thought.

    Also, there will always be Pharisees who declare themselves to be the arbiters of acceptability. We can ignore them and make films of influence and glory to God. However, in some instances, they wield undue influence in areas like distribution within Christian circles. That's unfortunate. But, in a way, it's just like Hollywood.

    Thanks for the post Daniel.

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  6. "... He's MUCH more concerned about the artist than the art. He wants to take the artist through a process. Yet the artist places WAAAAAY too much emphasis on the art."

    Great stuff. I think to put it quite simply, the artist is called to tell the story/create the image/create the melody that has been given them. That's it. God will do the rest. When we become obsessed with the utility and practicality of our art, it becomes didactic and empty. Quality is sacrificed in the name of the "message", except the message is completely lost if the quality isn't there.

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  7. Shame on you Ancarr (Tony)-- you're not allowed to say "Crappy" on a Christian blog. Dang it... I just did.

    In other words Alec, God wants obedience, not success?

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  9. Exactly! God wants obedience, and that's it. I would say it's a lesson I've been learning this year, except really I've been learning it my entire life.

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  10. Seems to me the same thing you folks have been saying about film making could be said about preaching. How much bad preaching takes place in our churches where we give people "good advice" instead of telling them a captivating story of "good news"? Sadly, lately I've found myself walking out of some services from a deep pain in my heart over the chronic dumbing-down of the gospel by pastors who think they have to sap all imagination out of the proclamation of the gospel message and "apply biblical principles" instead.

    can just imagine jesus' hearers being blown away by the radical things he said. when was the last time a person ever felt blown away by something radical a pastor said in church?!

    isn't our calling to make disciples by subverting what this world claims to be reality by revealing to them the real thing? in a 1st century jewish culture where the rich were believed to be rich because of god's blessing, can you imagine how radical it must've sounded to hear "blessed are the poor"? i can just hear the illiterate crowd... "and then jesus said... what?!" let's never forget that nice guys don't generally end up being executed. jesus must have challenged the status quo, no?

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